Premier League hits and misses: Fatigue hurts Arsenal

Arsenal stutter as fatigue sets in

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Southampton’s draw with Arsenal

Arsenal rolled into St Mary’s like a side top of the table that had won eight games on the bounce.

Once Granit Xhaka fired in the opener it felt inevitable that the floodgates would open. Southampton had no answer to the slick brand of football that has got so many people talking about Arsenal as serious contenders this season.

As the second half wore on, though, it became clear that Arsenal were unable to match the levels of intensity they had produced in the first half.

Arsenal’s number of attempts on goal halved to four in the second half during which time they failed to register a single shot on target. Their fall-off was evident out of possession too, with their number of successful tackles dropping from nine to three after the break.

Are Arsenal beginning to feel the effects of a busy fixture schedule?
Are Arsenal beginning to feel the effects of a busy fixture schedule?

Mikel Arteta’s side have been in title-winning form since the start of the season. The only question mark has been about the depth and durability in their squad and whether they will be able to contend with the rigours of one of the most taxing seasons ever owing to the winter World Cup.

Sunday’s draw with Southampton was Arsenal’s seventh match in 23 days and it showed.

Arsenal will be disappointed to drop two points, especially considering the chances they missed and the referee’s decision to ignore calls for a penalty for a foul on Gabriel Jesus by Duje Caleta-Car. But they remain in a strong position, leading Manchester City by two points after 11 games.

This season’s calendar is demanding on all teams. Competing at the top of the table and on all fronts makes it that much harder.

Finding a way to freshen up his squad will be of the utmost importance to Arteta if Arsenal’s title push is to have any longevity this season. The fatigue is starting to set in.
Zinny Boswell

Hasenhuttl deserves credit for tactical tweak

Ralph Hasenhuttl is used to pressure by now, but even the most cold-hearted Southampton fan would have surely let him off the hook had his side lost to table-topping Arsenal.

You got the feeling Wednesday night’s game against Bournemouth was a must-win for the Austrian. Sunday’s match against the Gunners, not so much.

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Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl praised the mentality of his players as they came back to earn a draw against Arsenal

A result against Arsenal at St Mary’s looked more unlikely with the Saints missing two key defenders. It was slightly ironic they kept their first clean sheet of the season at the Vitality Stadium without arguably their most gifted centre-back in Armel Bella-Kotchap. His replacement Duje Caleta-Car rose to the challenge, but right-back Kyle Walker-Peters being forced off with a hamstring issue gave Hasenhuttl another selection headache ahead of the weekend.

The Southampton boss had a significant decision to make. Starting with a back four with Lyanco filling in at right-back, Arsenal’s relentless pressure in the first half forced him to rethink – and he deserves huge credit.

He opted to change formation, with Mohamed Elyounoussi and Romain Perraud operating as wing-backs either side of a back three in Lyanco, Caleta-Car and Mohammed Salisu. It was a move that gave the hosts more stability and ultimately paid off as they earned an impressive point.

Hasenhuttl is undoubtedly still under scrutiny, but two draws and a win in just seven days have given him some much-needed breathing space.
Dan Sansom

New dad Bruno in dreamland for upwardly mobile Newcastle

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s win at Tottenham.

You wouldn’t have known he hadn’t slept a wink.

Bruno Guimaraes declared himself fit and available for duty less than 48 hours after becoming a father and being pictured alongside his partner Ana and their new-born son Matteo.

It is a sign of just how much he has bought into Newcastle since his arrival that he was desperate to not let fatigue deny him a chance to contribute towards a superb away win.

Eddie Howe was asked about Guimaraes’ confession he hadn’t slept for two nights following Matteo’s arrival.

“He’s kept that quiet from me,” the Newcastle boss said. “I knew about one night but not about two! It wouldn’t have changed my decision as he’s so pivotal to what we do. He’s given his heart and soul to the club. It was one of his best performances.”

Guimaraes is fast-becoming the club’s talisman spearheading an unlikely top-four charge. Only Kieran Trippier had more touches than his 77 while 20 of those were into the final third – a game high. He also made three interceptions and won as many fouls – more than any other Newcastle player.

The midfielder said afterwards: “They’ve been amazing days for me, to become a father for the first time. It’s been incredible. I’ve had two days without sleep. I would stay home but I love to be here with these guys. They make me happy and proud, and I think we deserved it today.”

On his son Matteo’s birth, the Brazilian added: “It was one of the best days of my life. I’m very happy and proud. It’s been like a dream. I don’t have words because it’s amazing what has happened in my life.

“I say thanks to my family. It’s been difficult but it’s all worth it.”

Tottenham are one of the three sides left above Newcastle, a position which flatters them on this evidence. Howe is excited about the future, claiming his side are not yet at full speed. Why stop dreaming at fourth?
Ben Grounds

Marsch really up against it at Leeds

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the thriller between Leeds United and Fulham

Four straight defeats for Leeds and no wins in eight under Jesse Marsch. Fans booing, players out of confidence and goals flying in at the wrong end. How much worse can it get?

Well, take a look at Leeds’ fixture list and it could be quite a lot. Next on their agenda is Liverpool next weekend, then Bournemouth at home the week after. Either side of the World Cup break are Tottenham and Manchester City.

You do struggle to see where the points are coming from, especially given Bournemouth at home will contain a lot of pressure.

In their last four games, Leeds have put in varying levels of performance – but there is a common denominator. Marsch’s side should have been 3-0 up against Crystal Palace but threw away their lead. Leeds were unfortunate against Arsenal but gifted the Gunners their winner. At Leicester they were abject but literally put goals into their own net, and Leeds were so open that Fulham could have left Elland Road with a hatful of goals.

It seems that no matter what Leeds do now, they cannot help conceding via their own means. Once and Marsch can hide behind individual error. Four straight games? That is more than coincidence.

Jesse Marsch has vowed to carry on at Leeds
Jesse Marsch has vowed to carry on at Leeds

A leaky defence was the tale of the tape behind Marcelo Bielsa’s sacking – and his successor looks to be heading down a similar route.
Sam Blitz

Fulham are more than Mitro

Aleksander Mitrovic celebrates after equalising for Fulham at Elland Road
Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates after equalising for Fulham at Elland Road

It was almost inevitable that Aleksandar Mitrovic would score on Sunday afternoon.

The striker had previously been involved in six goals in six games against Leeds in his career – and the way he barged Luke Ayling out of the way to meet Andreas Pereira’s corner hinted at a personal vendetta against the West Yorkshire club.

By scoring at a crucial time for Fulham in their comeback win over Leeds, he reaffirmed his status as the Cottagers’ man for a big moment.

But, both on Sunday and in recent weeks, Fulham are beginning to show that the Serb’s goals are not the only reason why they are up to seventh in the table.

Willian celebrates after scoring Fulham's third goal against Leeds
Willian (centre) and Harrison Reed (right) also starred at Elland Road

Pereira is producing more goal contributions as the weeks go by, as is Harrison Reed – who produced another impressive display at Elland Road after his heroics against Aston Villa in midweek.

Willian is rolling back the years with his ball-carrying ability down the wing, while Joao Palhinha provides steel in midfield. Goalkeeper Bernd Leno showed in countless moments on Sunday how effective a big-game shot-stopper can be at times.

Fulham are up to seventh and now three points away from the Champions League places. With three games to go until the World Cup break, including two at home, how far can this team go?
Sam Blitz

Wolves must wake up to relegation reality

The Wolves supporters were agitated as soon as their team fell behind but as the game went away from them in the second half of their 4-0 defeat to Leicester, the mood really soured. The focus of their frustration was not interim head coach Steve Davis.

It was technical director Scott Sellars who bore the brunt from the more vocal fans in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand. The chairman Jeff Shi finds himself under increased scrutiny too. Trust in the direction of travel for this club has gone the same way as the results on the field.

Wolves have some good players but the squad is imbalanced with a lack of experienced cover in the centre of defence and a haphazard approach to recruitment at the top end of the pitch. Strange decisions late in the window have left supporters confused.

It is alarming that they have been turned down by one manager who is out of work and another who is in the Championship. Davis was expected to be a steadying influence but there was nothing steady about this unconvincing and disjointed display.

Confidence appears shot and relegation must now be considered a serious risk given that it is only goal difference that keeps Wolves off the bottom of the Premier League table. Big decisions are required and this club need to get those decisions right.
Adam Bate

Leicester’s improved defence has been key

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Wolves and Leicester City

Leicester had conceded more goals in their first seven games – 22 of them in total – than any other team in the history of the Premier League. The turnaround since then has been just as dramatic. The clean sheet at Wolves was their third in a row, a fourth in five games.

What has changed? Well, the introduction of Wout Faes, the club’s new signing from Reims, has certainly made a difference in the heart of the defence. He is an assured and commanding presence, adding aggression to the defending with his combative approach.

But it has been a team effort. Leicester needed to be more resilient and that characteristic showed against Wolves. The improved performance of Danny Ward was a factor too. The goalkeeper made a particularly good save to deny Daniel Podence in the first half.

Ward had a miserable start to the season but Brendan Rodgers kept faith in him and that faith is being rewarded. He looks a more confident figure now, both with the ball at his feet and coming off his line to claim crosses, relieving the pressure on his defenders.

Scoring goals was never a problem for this team. They found the net twice against Arsenal, Brighton and Tottenham but still lost the lot. Once they tightened up at the back, the results were going to come. Victory over Wolves illustrated that in emphatic style.
Adam Bate

Danks flicks the Villa switch to supercharged levels

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Brentford.

If ever you needed an example of how three days can be a long time in football just look at Aston Villa. The same players that looked out on their feet at Fulham – a game that cost Steven Gerrard his job – became supercharged back at Villa Park under the eye of rookie boss Aaron Danks. A simple look at the distance covered stats backs up that these Villa players were running with more intensity than on Thursday night. As a team they covered 96.29km at Craven Cottage, they flew past that against Brentford, running 104.25km. Just under 8kms more running. It felt like that watching Villa press the life out of the Bees all over the pitch. There was only one team buzzing.

Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins set the tone in attack, running the channels and providing the platform for Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia to create havoc with their creativity. Where has this Villa been all season? Of course, many will point to the argument that Gerrard has been holding them back but surely there is more to it than that. This was Aston Villa reborn. And playing like this, they will be a match for anyone.
Lewis Jones

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